Scourge of the Righteous Haddock
Emily Nevin Cann Bell is a recent addition to Trundlewood Academy for Unwanted, Wayward, and Unusual Girls, fresh from a workhouse in É:lhal’s capital city, Cansem. Life at the Academy is pretty good. Sure, Sylvie seems determined to burn the school down; Ayn stalks the halls spouting her philosophy of radical self-reliance; and shy, refined Miles puts Emily’s stomach on spin cycle. And yes, there are occasional disruptions in the weather—like a horseradish storm—oddly timed to coincide with her dreams and journal entries. But for an orphan with three last names and no idea which one is correct, life is pretty good.
That is, life was pretty good until self-proclaimed-and-quite-probably-false prophet Damacias figures out what none of the orphans, Emily included, knows: Trundlewood Academy is no ordinary school and the writing exercises aren’t your typical essays. Everything that happens—your younger brother, that turnip hailstorm last weekend, the disappearance of a shade of violet from the color spectrum—is dictated by what these 30 teenage orphans living in an academy high on a mountain pass write during class. And Damacias isn’t happy about it.
In fact, he accuses the students of witchcraft and usurping the power of The One True Author of the Universe. A spring break fishing expedition in Nonpa, followed by an epic kegger, secures Damacias the allegiance of several leading fraternities in Cansem and he actively recruits followers—known as Righteous Haddock—who must demonstrate their commitment to the One True Author by being baptized in condiments at The Holy Scrubbing Grounds in Gu’pl.
But before Damacias can destroy Emily’s first and only true home, he’ll have to contend with Trundlewood Academy’s Board of Trustees, an assortment of wealthy, powerful, and strange people, several of whom have questionable motives for joining the board in the first place. Some, like Marcellus Barculo whose family made its fortune enslaving and selling wild animals to the circus, blatantly assist Damacias’ campaign. Bestselling romance writer and former Trundlewood student Bettina Van Vleck just joined the board to keep a competitive eye on the budding writing talent at the Academy. At least the orphans can always count on assistance from Lily Ludlow, the Academy's librarian who sports literary tattoos across her forearms and the word “Bookworm” inked across her knuckles. And Warlord Liam Waters is always available to rescue a damsel in distress, even if he has no use for one in his romantic life. The battle that ensues will answer the age-old question: Which is mightier, the pen or the sword?
Rhea Artuso never expected to make it to 18. She never bothered to fall in love or apply for college or learn a skilled trade because she didn’t think she’d live long enough for her efforts to matter. But now she’s graduated from high school and her parents seem to think that the best method of dealing with their ambitionless firstborn is to ship her to Rome to spend the summer with relatives.
Rhea’s last memory of Rome is of being buried alive by an angry mob at the age of 17. In the angry mob’s defense, she did violate her oath of chastity and there’s not much point being a vestal virgin if you aren’t in fact a virgin. And she may have allowed the eternal flame to extinguish, which is also considered a major faux pas since her primary responsibility as a virgin priestess was to guard Vesta’s eternal flame.
She tells herself she would like nothing better than to forgive and forget—which might not be the entire truth because forgiving and forgetting also means forgetting Nesreen, the gladiator she fell in love with and the reason she was no longer a virgin—but she also knows that violating a sacred oath is the sort of crime you don’t just pay for once. Who knew who, or what, might be waiting for Rhea in Rome?
But slinking through life terrified that someone might uncover your secret isn’t exactly a satisfactory way to live. In ancient Rome, Rhea just risked death. In contemporary, civilized society, they’d lock her up and throw away the key if they knew she was a reincarnated “virgin” priestess. Besides, unbeknownst to Rhea, someone already knows her secret. And that someone is determined to help Rhea overcome her fears of the past. Fortunately, that someone also happens to know exactly how to pressure Rhea into accepting her parents’ offer. After all, what kind of little sister would Emeline be if she couldn’t nag Rhea into returning to a city where she was publicly executed 2,000 years earlier?